DOUBT by Wellbilt Theater Factory—Bodes Well

by Jack Shaw

I just saw a very fine production of DOUBT, presented by the Wellbilt Theater Factory and Haddonfield Plays and Players.  It was well acted and directed, and, in this sitting, audience members even reflected a reverent mood.  After Father Flynn’s first monologue, which he ends with a sign of the cross, a woman in the front row started to do the same–as if in church.  It is a tribute to convincing acting, the part of the priest played naturally by Pat DeFusco.  By the way, Pat also directed DOUBT.

(l. to r.) Hilary Kayle Crist, Monica Bennett, Pat DeFusco, Carly J. Mooney, members of the cast of Wellbilt Theater Factory's DOUBT, playing at Haddonfield Plays and Players, last show today at 2PM.

All the actors gave fine performances in the tiny black box theater in Haddonfield.  Hilary Kayle Crist plays Sister Aloysius with all the dogged conviction of someone who knows with certainty the ways of the world.  Carly J. Mooney is excellent as the innocent and optimistic Sister James.  Monica Bennett’s soft spoken Mrs. Muller does a superb job of shaking Sister Aloysius’ reality by sharing her reality.

John Patrick Shanley’s play deserves some serious thought, which is good.  It is good because DOUBT is about a serious subject.  Granted, molesting a student is serious business, but that’s not necessarily the point.  So, what’s the point, if I’m not talking about the obvious “did he or didn’t he?”

Guilt or innocence aside, the fact that people know and act on matters they feel certain about can be problematic.  “Feel” being the operative word here.  And, acting on facts (unfeeling) may come too late.  Yet, after we see the consequences of our actions based on certainty, we “doubt” ourselves and what we think we know.  We ask ourselves and others if we did the right thing.  What began as a certainty is not.  It always ends as doubt.

The Forge Theater’s performance of DOUBT was just reviewed and posted on STAGE Magazine so I won’t reacquaint you with the show’s story.  Instead, as a reviewer, I feel it is my job to comment, not only what I saw, but what I think I should have seen.

In spite of fine performances, I felt the power missing.  I can’t know for certain that it was missing because it wasn’t in evidence. I’m going to nitpick now, so please don’t let this reviewer keep you from an otherwise fine show.  I’ll also grant that it easier to see it from the seats than when you are on stage in the moment.  In “intimate theater,” every acting nuance shows.  You can’t wipe the sweat, or fidget, or look somewhere you shouldn’t.  Here, what shows is what’s missing:  the blank look that people give you when you’ve said something without substance, and they don’t get it.  It was apparent no one except Sister James seemed particularly taken aback by the hint of impropriety by the priest.  There is a reason the play is set in 1964.  This is 1964, when it is shocking all by itself to be gay, let alone the shock of molestation by a priest.  Unthinkable! I know some Catholics who still deny any impropriety by a priest is possible—so strong is their faith.  Faith that’s something akin to certainty without facts, wouldn’t you say?

Sometimes the present-day colors our acting of times past.  As in this close setting, I would expect some of Sister Aloysius’ suggestions to get an incomprehensible look at first rather than an immediate reaction.  Similarly, Sister James was a little too whiney from the beginning and needed to hold back a little more, although I do think she was perfectly cast.  Sister Aloysius’ threats seemed hollow from the beginning, and the result is an ending that falls a little flat.

This was the second time the Intimate Stage has been used since Haddonfield Plays and Players brought it back to regular use; the first time was for THE FANTASTICKS.  So, it’s understandable the techno-ghosts can play havoc until the kinks of the space are totally worked out.

The lights for this show seemed to need a little tweaking to get rid of some shadows.  If the shadows were intended, I missed out.  I would have moved the bench further upstage (there seemed to be room) to open the acting area some; scenes in that area were rather static especially compared to scenes in the office.  The sound effects and music choices were perfect, albeit a little soft.  Still, a great show for a small audience.  A play that makes you think–with players who hit the ideas home.  Not a thing wrong with that in my book.

by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Pat DeFusco
November 11 – 14
Wellbilt Theatre Factory @
Haddonfield Plays and Players
957 East Atlantic Avenue
Haddonfield, NJ

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